Fishing / POSTED 07-Apr-2024

How Yamaha Changed the Way I Fish

New products for boaters and fishermen are being introduced faster than consumers can absorb their benefits. With a press release and some hoopla on social media things come and go in the blink of an eye, and our fast-paced lifestyle makes it easy to miss out on technologies that can improve your fishing success. Yamaha’s Helm Master EX digital electric helm system is one such example of a technological advance, and with the systems most recent upgrades it incorporates groundbreaking advances for fishermen. 


Helm Master EX is available for all Yamaha outboards from 150- to 450-horsepower in single, twin, triple and quad installations. It is a digital electronic helm control system that combines electric steering, throttle and speed binnacle, joystick, autopilot, GPS and heading sensors all integrated through a common computer that makes the individual components work seamlessly to accomplish tasks that were heretofore impossible. The software has learning capability which means it can determine how various functions are affected by environmental conditions like sea state, current and wind and make adjustments accordingly. The system is intuitive to use once you explore its capabilities and programming options. But enough of the technical jargon, let’s explore how this remarkable helm system has changed the way a few pro anglers fish. 

Capt. George Mitchell probably knows more about Yamaha’s Helm Master EX system than any other captain on the water simply because his boats have been used as testbeds during the development and upgrading of the system and his fishing expertise provided feedback regarding the system’s functionality. He worked hand in hand to evaluate its performance aiding engineers and software designers. His boats are typically center consoles powered by twin or triple Yamaha outboards. George is a legendary captain, guide and tournament fisherman with decades spent fishing both coasts of Florida and throughout the Gulf of Mexico. Here’s just some of what he had to say about how Helm Master EX has changed the way he fishes. 


“I typically use Helm Master from the very beginning of each fishing trip” says Mitchell. “It links seamlessly with any brand of marine electronics which makes entering waypoints and selecting routes a breeze for the system’s autopilot. Let’s say I’m going to fish a rockpile twenty miles offshore for red snapper. I highlight the waypoint for the spot, and once I exit the harbor, engage the system’s autopilot using the Course Hold function if the run is a straight shot to the waypoint. If the course includes a number of waypoints, I would engage the Track Point function and it will run the entire route hands free. While Helm Master pilots the boat I keep an eye on my surroundings and can do some of the many little things necessary to be ready to fish upon arrival. It could be changing rigs, arranging tackle, looking for new structure along the way, whatever. I have the Course Hold function set to automatically reduce the speed to idle when I get within a half mile of the waypoint so I can watch the sonar and check out the surroundings for signs of life as I approach the final destination. Why? Because frequently I come across a bait school well away from the structure and that can provide some quick action. Once I get to the waypoint I engage the Pattern Steer function on the autopilot. Pattern Steer is a series of preprogrammed search patterns that can be incredibly useful. In this case I have it set so it will run the boat in a tight orbit around the waypoint while I scope out the surrounding water with sonar. Why would I do that? Because fish often hold on specific areas of large underwater structures like rockpiles or bigger wrecks, so I am trying to zero in on just where they are and where I want to position the boat before we start fishing.”

“In the case of red snapper,” George continues, “they typically hold on the up-current portion of the structure. Once I mark them on the plotter, I’ll start the process of positioning the boat before I engage Stay Point® (or Fish Point® on a single engine application) which will maintain boat position. For this fishing I have Stay Point adjusted to hold the boat stern-to the prevailing current, but first I have to determine how the wind and current will cause the boat to sit and I do that by putting the engines in neutral and allowing the boat to drift for a few minutes. Once I have a plot trail showing the direction of the drift, I run the boat back up the plot line, turn around and approach the waypoint with the prevailing current at my stern. When I near the numbers, I press the Stay Point button on the joystick and Helm Master takes over automatically adjusting the engines speed and heading to maintain the boat’s position. I use Stay Point Stern when bottom fishing so my baits or jigs fall toward the bow with the current away from the engines as they descend. If I want to move the boat while Stay Point is engaged, the joystick acts as the controller. To go forward, back or to either side just click of the joystick in the desired direction and Helm Master EX moves the boat ten feet in relationship to the original waypoint. If I want to move further, say 30 or 50 feet, click the joystick multiple times to achieve the distance desired and the system will make the precise adjustments. Click it ten times and the boat will move 100-feet in that direction. The system makes covering any size bottom structure quick and easy.”


“Once you understand how precise boat positioning can be with Helm Master EX, it opens up many options to improve your bottom fishing no matter where you fish and what species you fish for,” George added. “The best part of this equation is it works regardless of water depth. I recently used the system to fish an underwater pipeline for grouper in 800 feet of water and it let me move the boat methodically along the extensive structure using the joystick, almost like a video game. It’s a total gamechanger for deep dropping for swordfish regardless of the water depth. Helm Master EX provides the ultimate in boat control for bottom fishing, nothing else even comes close. ”Ken Pontari is the vice president of manufacturing at Contender Boats, but he is also a licensed captain and veteran tournament fishermen who spent years fishing bluewater for marlin and sailfish. He is the captain of Contender One, the company tournament boat, for tournaments in the MidAtlantic region where white and blue marlin are the primary targets, but the techniques he uses there are applicable to fishing for Florida sailfish when trolling with rigged dead baits is the method of choice. 


“When trolling dead baits, the most important factor for me is controlling boat speed” Pontari explains. Boat speed affects the way my baits swim and to get ballyhoo to swim like they are alive requires precise and often minute adjustments to the speed of the boat. Get it wrong and the baits can spin, pop out of the water or just look a little unnatural. The more natural the action, the more bites. Speed adjustments might be as subtle as one-quarter knot and speed corrections are often needed in an instant as wind, current, sea state and changes in boat direction all impact speed. Our tournament boat is typically a 44 Contender® with triple XTO Offshore®. That’s a lot of power to finesse using the standard shift and throttle binnacle control and that’s where the Helm Master shines.”

During competition Ken runs the boat from the tower so he has a clear view of his trolling pattern. He keeps a critical eye on a pair of dredges, daisy chain teasers and especially on a full spread of rigged ballyhoo. He watches for marlin rising into the pattern and has pitch baits staged around the cockpit at the ready. He carefully studies the way the ballyhoo are swimming, making note of subtle differences when the boat speed is adjusted. From his seat in the tower, he uses a fully integrated second station to run the Helm Master EX through its paces. His favorite part of the system is the Speed Control function that allows him to precisely adjust boat speed to optimize his bait presentation, something that is exceedingly difficult using the standard throttle.

Speed Control is operated using an additional rocker switch on the throttle arm located directly beneath the trim and tilt switch. With the boat in gear, press the rocker switch down to engage Speed Control and then you can adjust speed up or down at the touch of the button. Speed Control can be set to adjust engine RPM or to automatically maintain a specific boat speed over ground as measured in miles-per-hour by the system’s proprietary GPS receiver and heading sensor. Pontari prefers using the RPM mode and he sets the value for each press of the rocker switch to 50 RPMs, which makes fine tuning boat speed as simple as a click every now and then. 

“I use the RPM mode because I want complete control of the boat speed at my fingertips,” Pontari explains. “If I’m contending with swells that will change my speed as the boat rises and falls on each swell, I know just how many clicks I need to adjust up or down by experience. Same goes for currents, boat direction and even wind speed and direction. Helm Master Speed Control has been a total game changer for this type of fishing.”

Gary Caputi is a well-known fisherman, writer for national fishing and boating magazines and the author of Fishing for Striped Bass. He currently runs a Pathfinder 2700 Open powered by a single Yamaha F300XCB with the full suite of Helm Master EX for single engine controls. He has been fishing the most productive striped bass waters on the coast for over three decades and started using the system two years ago. 


“The longer I use Helm Master the more I realize just what an amazing fishing tool it is,” Caputi says. “And not for just striper fishing. It is a precision instrument that makes trolling, drift fishing and structure fishing easier and far more productive.” One example Caputi discussed was applying Helm Master EX to trolling for stripers. Whether you troll bunker spoons, mojo’s, deep-diving plugs or engaged in one of the hottest techniques to come along for targeting big stripers in many years—bump-trolling live eels—Helm Master EX is a gamechanger because trolling speed control is critical to the action of the lures or live baits you’re presenting.

“Bump-trolling live eels using side planers and floats has accounted for more 50-pound bass for me in the last three years than all other techniques combined over the prior 35 years,” Gary explains. “The appeal of this technique to big bass is undeniable, and the key to doing it effectively is to maintain the slowest possible speed necessary to spread the planers out to the sides of the boat while maintaining the depth of the eels behind them. The ideal speed is considerably slower than most boats will move with the engines in gear at idle, so the only way to maintain it is to bump the engine(s) in and out of gear. I get most of my bites when moving between one and two miles per hour and Helm Master’s Pattern Shift mode, which is part of the Speed Control function, can do that more efficiently than I can with a throttle lever in my hand. I engage the Speed Control mode to set the speed using the MPH data from the system’s proprietary GPS and the computer automatically bumps the engine in an out of gear as needed. It’s one of the more fascinating capabilities of the system. Yamaha’s proprietary SDS® (shift dampening system) props, makes the process of shifting in and out of gear is nearly silent, a very welcome bonus feature.”


Caputi also utilizes the Helm Master EX autopilot while trolling to maintain a straight course. “All I do is point the boat in the direction I want and press Heading Hold on the autopilot keypad and the computer takes over that function, too, maintaining direction and adjusting for any cross-track error from wind, tide or current,” he says. It’s hands-free navigating that lets me concentrate on the plotter, sonar and visible signs around the boat. If the boat moves too slowly for the autopilot to maintain direction, something that occurs from time to time when bump-trolling eels, a warning buzzer notifies me and a warning message pops up on the engine monitor screen. Most of the open-oceanareas where I use this technique have no obstructions so all I do is keep a keen eye on any other boats in the area while Helm Master does the grunt work.”

These examples are only scratching the surface of the many fishing and navigating benefits afforded by Helm Master EX, but you can see how they can benefit your fishing in a multitude of positive ways. Ask any captain who has experience with the Helm Master EX system and you can expect a dissertation on its benefits and how much they love using it. The reasons are simple, it helps you catch more fish.

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